2. Changing tech for the next generation
Speaking of privacy, I spent most of Wednesday live streaming Common Sense Media's Designing for our Future conference — an event looking at how the tech industry could better serve the next generation. (I was planning to go in person but decided to keep my cold germs to myself.)
Why it matters: I spent basically a whole day listening to a webcast, which should tell you something — and it's not that I love webcasts. It's because the topic is important — especially for parents who wrestle with hard and persistent questions like which digital devices are ok and when should children start using them.
What we're hearing: Common Sense CEO Jim Steyer and crew amassed a smart collection of folks from the tech industry, academia and activist groups to talk about the impacts of technology on youth.
- Center for Humane Technology founder Tristan Harris gave an eloquent summation of the problem and its scale.
- Representatives from Mozilla, Wikipedia and Code.org offered up a range of ways that web services could take steps to protect privacy — like hashing e-mail addresses and truncating IP addresses to minimize data collection.
- Common Sense also detailed its just-released study showing that 1 in 3 teens sleep with their phones and many more keep their phones a short reach away.
The most memorable discussion was among a panel of youths from Dave Eggers' 826 National, a writing program. More scary than their horror stories (and those were pretty scary): None of the teens would allow their younger selves to use a smartphone.
Yes, but: Despite lots of critiques of Facebook and Google and their business models, no one seemed to have a good alternative.
- That is, how do you change an industry that benefits from attracting eyeballs and maximizing minutes spent? How do you keep companies from taking steps that maximize growth at the expense of users' wellbeing?
In the end, many agreed that regulation is probably a necessity — at least as an adjunct to, if not a replacement for, an industrywide shift in priorities.
My thought bubble: The conference made me want to re-evaluate my own smartphone use, as well as my family's.